Sunday, April 15, 2007

What's wrong with selling your story to the media?

It is quite amazing. A few weeks ago a number of British Navy crew were taken 'hostage' by Iranian forces in Iraqi/Iranian (depending on who you choose to give credence to) territorial waters. After a short propaganda war the Iranians released their trophy. I guess most readers will have watched this soap on TV and will have made up their own mind about the story.
However, there was an aftermath to it all. The UK defence minister permitted the troopers to sell their story to the news media. The main reasons that were given, initially at least, suggested that the military believed the story would come out one way or another anyway and that by allowing the Navy personnel to speak themselves they could control the message to some extent.
This all seemed eminently sensible until all hypocritical hell broke lose. There was a lot of waffling about professional standards being breached by those soldiers. The Conservatives did what opposition parties probably always do, they demanded that the Defence minister resign. The same newspapers that fell over each other in attempts at securing the rights for the sailors' stories began condemning their alleged greed. Well, for starters, these papers began offering cash in the first place. What puzzles me much more, however, is the question of which professional standards these sailors could have possibly broken. They did not divulge any military secrets during their interviews, and there was a great deal of public interest in knowing the details of their ordeal. So, if anything, they performed a public service, did not harm anyone, and managed to get their message across (ie they refuted the Iranian version of events).
What puzzles me about this saga is that families who lost family members serving in the Iraq or Afghanistan adventures of Mr Blair attacked the defence secretary for permitting those sailors to sell their stories. What is so deeply offensive about receiving a payment for the story. Would these same people have not complained if they had volunteered the information? Why should they have volunteered the information free of charge? I think there was no good reason for this at all. These soldiers serve in a war that arguably is pointless at best, it certainly is illegal and likely to destabilise the Middle East even further. If those folks supplement their meagre salaries (meagre in relation to the daily risk to their lives) by selling their story, I think only a hypocrite would complain!
I say: leave them alone.

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